Friday, January 21, 2011

No Name Calling Week

My boys attend a local charter school that has a constructivist philosophy and is very progressive. Next week, both the elementary and middle schools are participating in No Name Calling Week,  an annual week of educational creative activities designed to end name-calling of all kinds, with lessons and activities for all the students. The week was inspired by the young adult novel The Misfits and is "presented in collaboration with more than 50 national education and youth service organizations, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association."

I was surprised when Oliver came home from school several weeks ago and told me that he might want to be a part of the week's activities and call attention to the word retarded that he said is used constantly on the playground and in conversation even by some of his friends. Of my two sons, I would say that Oliver has been the most self-conscious about having Sophie as a sister, particularly sensitive to the stares that she receives in public and often painfully conflicted and embarrassed. We have spoken for a very long time about all of these issues, and I've always encouraged him to be open about his feelings, even when they're difficult. He has told me before how much it bothers him when people use the word retarded; in fact, he once said in an angry outburst after Sophie had a big seizure that I have to deal with all of this at home and then go to school and hear people call other people retards.


Today, Oliver and a classmate did an amazingly brave presentation on two words whose indiscriminate use  bother them deeply and personally. I crouched in the middle of the play-yard where hundreds of kids sat in rapt silence and watched as these two nine-year olds stood up for what they believed in and educated all of us. Both Oliver and his classmate introduced themselves and told the group who they were. Then they each discussed the name-calling that they had been hurt by. Elizabeth spoke about her gay parents and Oliver spoke about Sophie.

I was humbled and awed (and extremely teary).






40 comments:

  1. I am speechless. What beautiful kids.

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  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE this exercise!!!!!

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  3. I have just started reading your blog and getting to know your family so maybe I'm presumptuous but I'm so proud of Oliver right now! (and Elizabeth, too)

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  4. So impressed and awed. What an incredible kiddo. Kudos to you and your family. This is the first time I've commented but I've been reading your blog for a long while. My daughter (who is only 5 1/2) has issues (siezures) VERY similar to your Sophie. Thanks for posting this.

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  5. kristenspina - Yes.

    us - It's so good to hear from you! We need to catch up.

    Lisa and Sarah - Welcome and thank you so much for leaving a comment. It means the world to me!

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  6. You know me- I am not a "maybe the true purpose of this or that is this higher Noble Thing" kind of person.
    BUT, I will say that growing up with Sophie as their sister and with you as their mother is going to profoundly affect the sensitivity and very souls of your sons which may end up changing the world.
    I am not kidding, Elizabeth. I do believe that.

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  7. This is a very courageous and world changing step that Oliver has made, this speaking out. Congratulations to him and to you for mothering him in such a way to get him there. x0 N2

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  8. This is truly amazing. Isn't it amazing that these little people can be such good thoughtful people? May they never lose that. You should be very proud. And words? They are powerful weapons.

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  9. This just got me all choked up. Very impressive. What a moment, for him and for you.

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  10. My step-daughter did her original oratory this fall on her brother Max. She went through it all and gave a very matter-of-fact run down of what his diagnosis is, and how it affects him. Towards the end though, she gets quite passionate about how people use the word retarded, and -

    "when you use that word, whether you mean to or not, you are putting people like my brother down, you are saying they are stupid, and my brother is not stupid."

    It makes me tear up to think about it...and cry buckets when I hear her recite it.

    It's wonderful that Oliver's school is allowing kids to express themselves, and the things that touch their lives. And while it might feel weird, and embarrassing, and frustrating at times for Oliver now, he is going to be Sophie's knight in shining armor when he grows up.

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  11. This was very moving...I think all schools, all grades, should address this and do the same. Give that son of yours a huge hug and then give each other a really huge group hug...

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  12. Oh, Elizabeth I cried looking at these photos. How brave and wonderful.

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  14. Oh Elizabeth. This post brings tears to my eyes. There is something so powerful about your son, Oliver and his friend, our namesake, battling openly the prejudice they encounter in life.

    It's wonderful.

    If only we all felt safe to come out of our closets and talk about the things of which we feel most ashamed even as we know somehow that these things should not shame us.

    Thank you.

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  15. I hate the word retard too, good for Oliver. I know my son was worried about Katie embarrassing him because she was handicapped. I told him not to worry, that his "normal" sister would embarrass him just as much:)

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  16. Well crap ... I wrote this long comment.Hit post.Deleted to add.And tried to add to it and poof ... gone.Should never do that.

    This was amazing.The pictures almost made me cry.

    I know how proud you must be.Witnessed similar with my guys at one time or another and my heart was bursting.I feel certain,that even without the presence of Zoey in their lives,they would still be siding with the right and the just and fair and the equitable.However,with Zoey and their unwavering desire to care for her and protect her,that desire has increased tenfold.



    Unrelated note:Was Modern Family not just HYSTERICAL this week???

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  17. I'm crying just reading this. I only read from afar, but I can tell that that Oliver of yours is something special.

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  18. Meant to add - your post reminded me of this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoqaNG0Ozqc

    the picture quality is poor, but the message is powerful.

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  19. I don't even need to respond to your post. For my feelings, please refer back to Oliver and Elizabeth.

    Best,
    Bonnie

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  20. I'm teary too. What incredibly compassionate, courageous, brilliant and wonderful kids. I am so moved!

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  21. Incredible. He rocks. I just love him. The pure gentle spirit of a child can stop people dead in their tracks. Rock on big O.

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  22. That is amazing, and so brave of them. I personally hate the word 'retard' too, I never used it even in my teens when it would have been cool to use it!! (yeah, big sarcasm there). Go Oliver :) Jen

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  23. phenomenal, really.

    I won't deny my less than perfect choice of language, but we must try.. we must keep taking steps forward,
    there isn't an option , it's something we are all capable of doing.

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  24. WOW! That is fantastic, courageous, creative, wise and empowering. Good job kids, parents and educators! xoxox

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  25. This is gorgeous and brave, and I think you are, too. Thanks for sharing this.

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  26. Hooray for brave children. And hooray for their parents who helped them to be so brave.

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  27. What a bright Light your son is. What an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing. xo

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